Avenari - Chapter 6
We found Veronica and Jenn in the living room, deep in a game of chess. Veronica was winning again, and Jenn was determined not to lose another game. That would take a while.
Mitch listened to some rock band on his headphones while reading a book beside his sister on the sofa. He had sobered up by now, and when he saw Ivan and me walk in he set down his book and removed the headphones. “Where’s Simone?”
“Yelling at my worse half,” Ivan answered with a hint of satisfaction. I gave him a frown.
“He brought up your love lives again, didn’t he?” It was such a frequent occurrence that it seemed I was the only one who found it grating. As far as I was concerned, romantic love wasn’t a thing anymore. However, that didn’t make it okay for Sam to constantly bring up the relationship that Ivan and I had once shared. I still felt embarrassment like a mortal.
“Yeah,” I said. “End of discussion.”
Mitch grinned at my discomfort and replaced the headphones. “Touchy-touchy...”
Leaving our elders to their individual endeavors, we went upstairs to the second-floor game room in the south wing, followed faintly by the gentle clink of crystal chess pieces.
I turned on the television and switched to a primetime channel. There were several hours until sunrise, and we almost never watched television anymore, especially since I’d been holing myself up in my room so much lately. It was nice to just sit and do something normal for once.
But after a short while, Ivan broke our silence.
“Lynn, something’s up with Simone.” I was using his shoulder as a headrest, but he didn’t seem to mind, simply turning a little to speak quietly into my ear.
I laughed softly at his concern. “He worries too much.”
“No,” he insisted, “it’s something big this time. Tivor’s making waves, and the Eastern Council is getting involved. That might be the reason why Simone has to go.”
The vampire in question had once lived up north, somewhere in Quebec. About a year earlier, he and his posse had moved to Europe, where the Emperor had less power. They were rogues, Shimaren who obeyed no laws. Simone’s Maker, Tivor, was the leader. He and Simone were practically mortal enemies—in the loosest sense, considering how they were both immortal.
Simone’s philosophy had always been that mortals were the true proprietors of the world. We were just a random accident placed on this Earth approximately ten thousand years ago, give or take. No one knew the exact date because the first Shimare was untraceable, but it was believed that there had to have been more than one veritas caput—or Incipient in common terms.
Most likely, an entire clan had been changed, which explained why there were multiple bloodlines. Tivor, Simone, and I were from the fourth; the twins were from the eighth, a middle line; and Veronica and Mitch were from the fifth, one of the lower lines. Jenn didn’t know hers—her attack had been a hit-and-run, and she had never cared enough to find out.
Simone knew our recorded history through ties to the Eastern Brood Manor, Ivanarke, but he had never told us the fine details. All I knew were the basics, though this was still much more information than common vampires had.
Contrary to Simone’s philosophy, Tivor believed us to be a superior race, and surrounded himself with others who agreed with his outlook on our existence. He was similar to most fanatical dictators in a lot of disturbing ways, but he was older, and his methods were unstoppable by human efforts. Only a Brood Manor had enough power to remove him quietly, but Shimari politics were no more efficient than human politics. With the Western Manor getting to be a problem, there was only so much attention the Emperor and Council could afford.
For years, his group had been in hiding, but had Tivor finally made a move? He was a coward by nature, which conflicted with his outrageous visions of a global takeover. The guy was also an idiot, despite how indomitable he could be if he really got started. However, Tivor was still dangerous. Insane, heartless idiots with power were always deadly.
“But what are they doing?” I wondered aloud.
“I overheard Simone talking to Jenn about some emails, and apparently there have been increased reports of illegitimate fledglings in the areas where Tivor has had the most influence.”
I pursed my lips in thought. “I hear about vampiric deaths every year now, which can only mean that there are either too many fledglings, or the manors are disputing again.” Or, most likely, it was a combination of both problems. The Western Brood Manor, Vrisalte, had been causing Simone and his colleagues plenty of grief for the past few years.
Politics were stupid.
“The world is getting smaller,” Ivan said. “Humans are spreading and so are we. Even ancients are moving and disappearing, leaving everything in the hands of their fledglings. The equilibrium is being overbalanced.”
I wished that Simone would keep us in the loop. He always knew what was really going on, but had this grating habit of not telling us anything.
“Well, Simone isn’t allowed to tell us everything,” Ivan said, reading my mind, “and maybe this time he can’t help. He’s strong, but not strong enough. For that, they’d need someone at least twice as old.” He added with a laugh, “Which is a near impossibility. How many ancient ancients are left? They’ll probably just send the Nesciti as muscle and let Simone delegate.”
“Stop invading my brain,” I muttered.
He smiled and bumped his head lightly against mine. “Anyway, I doubt Simone wants to deal with his Maker. He has his hands full just with you. He’s been worrying a lot lately.”
“About what?” Simone definitely worried too much.
“About you,” he said. His eyes glazed over for a moment—they always did when cross-examining all the possibilities to something. He had an irritating habit of knowing what was going on while everyone else remained clueless.
“What about me?” I glared at the TV. “I can take care of myself, thanks.”
He emerged from of his thoughts. “Well, I caught some messages when he left his laptop open, and they mentioned you in a weird way.”
“What is it? Is it bad?”
“I don’t know. I just thought it was odd that Ivanarke was asking about how you were doing—almost like they were expecting something from you.” He shook his head, uncertain for once. “You should just ask Simone.”
I sat back, more perplexed than when Simone had wanted to hunt with me. I didn’t know what those emails could have said, or why anyone in Ivanarke would have any interest in me. I was about as interesting as a paper clip. If anything, the fact that my Maker was an ancient was probably the only special thing about me.
Still, I trusted Ivan’s observational skills, and I knew he would never lie to me.
“I think I need some alone time,” I said, getting up without another word. Ivan didn’t press for answers. He knew me better than I knew myself, sometimes.
Instinctively, I headed up to library. I loved libraries. They felt timeless and made it easier to think or just relax. The old, musty smell of history, art, science, and literature filled my lungs and eased my thoughts better than anything else in the Manor. The library was where I felt at least a little bit of human peace.
I seated myself in one of the supple leather recliners and sank in comfortably with the book I had been reading before my depressed episode. Unlike most of my kind, I liked to read slowly, which helped immensely when I needed a distraction. I worried about my Maker about as much as he worried about me, but all this news from Ivanarke was killing my excitement over finally gaining a new friend. For once, I needed to put myself before the big picture.
After about an hour, I became faintly aware of Simone’s presence in the doorway. He awaited some sign that he might come in.
Keeping my eyes on the words, I made a small gesture to let him know that he could enter if he wanted. He crossed the threshold and quietly strolled along the shelves, and after a moment’s consideration sat in the other recliner across from me, patiently waiting for me to find a stopping point.
At the end of my chapter, I sighed and replaced the bookmark, then set the volume back on the table. My poor feeding habits left me tired out, despite Nick’s assistance. His blood had been so thin, and I had waited so long…
After a few seconds of silence, Simone asked, “Lynn, why don’t you take a nap?”
I frowned. “Why? I’m not that tired.”
“Your body will never grow truly exhausted, of course, but to rid yourself of mental weariness, a mortal sleep is the best remedy.”
“I guess,” I said in vague interest. A nice, long nap did have a certain appeal to it, and I couldn’t remember the last time that I had slept with a sated thirst.
“I already made your bed for you,” he added.
I blinked at him before admitting a laugh. “Are you psychic?”
Simone gave me a warm smile. “Get some rest. Your blood will wake you before you need to hide from the sun.”
I nodded and stood, and when I hugged him he touched his lips to my forehead—an uncommon gesture that filled me with peace. He walked me to my room as he often did, and outside I heard him tell the others not to disturb me, though I doubted very much that Sam would abide by that command. The devious troll would almost certainly try something funny.
My bed was made up nicely with fresh sheets and a warm down comforter, all in black satin and red trim. He must also have cleaned my special pillow, because it smelled fresh and was as fluffy and soft as it had been when I was little. It was enough to put me in a good mood.
Although it wasn’t necessary, I still changed into a proper nightgown, pausing only to check if feeding had returned my normal appearance. It had; my reflection looked healthy and happy, rather than tired and irritated. I would have to thank Nick when I saw him again.
At last, I got into bed, hugging my pillow and almost instantly relaxing into a deep sleep.
* o * o *
I was sitting by a fire with my mother, in my old house. She was in her favorite rocking chair, quietly mending a pair of my old, faded jeans, when she set down the needle and thread and looked at me.
An eerie chill shivered through my skin.
“I miss you, Lydian,” she said, smiling sadly. Her Filipino accent was faint, but audible, and it filled me with nostalgia. My heart gave a painful twinge at the sound of her voice saying my real name, but I bore it.
“I miss you too, Mom.” I figured that I should just go along with the dream. Vampire dreams were usually more authentic than human dreams, and we always seemed to know we were dreaming without waking up. I usually enjoyed it, but I wasn’t so sure I liked this one.
“I’ve been watching you,” she added softly. “I’ve seen what you’ve become. The sun is your enemy. You feed on blood. You’ve changed. I wish for you to see the sun again.”
Her voice had an ethereal quality, as if echoing down a tunnel. It made me uncomfortable. It was just too realistic, her intonations too perfectly reproduced. My mom was dead. I didn’t want these old wounds to open again.
“I’m a vampiress, a Shima,” I said. My tone remained cautious and uncertain. Though I was aware of the dream, I was still afraid of my mother’s reaction to what had happened to me.
“I never gave you your birthday present.” She seemed suddenly hopeful, and I saw a look in her eyes that I might have gotten from her—kind of sly, as though she had hatched a plan that she knew I would love.
To hell with it. It was just a dream, and even if it hurt, I was still happy that my mind had retained so much detail about her. “Well, my birthday is in a few days. It’s not too late.”
She contemplated this while gazing at the fire, as though there might be an answer written in its embers. Her jet-black hair shimmered with reflections of the orange light, and she had a darker, richer shade of my eye color, like garnet and amber blended into a gradient with the garnet at the edges. It was almost scary to see so much resemblance between us. I even had some of her profile. I could barely remember her appearance as it was, yet this dream gave me more detail than I should have been able to recall. It was creepy and heartening all at once.
She stood and went to the mantle, where a small silver jewelry box rested. It had feathers and wing designs engraved on all sides, and on the lid was an enameled raven wearing a series of necklaces framed in delicate silver curls. Precious stones glinted in the firelight like the crown jewels. I couldn’t recall ever seeing that box before. If I had, I certainly wouldn’t have forgotten.
With a tiny, matching silver key taken from a chain around her neck, Mom unlocked the box and pulled out two necklaces with pendants on them similar to the ones which the raven wore in the image.
The first had a silver rope chain, and the pendant was a fine, pearly moonstone in a lacy silver setting. It was about the size of an incandescent Christmas light bulb, and I could just make out a miniscule black feather buried deep in the stone.
The other had a gold chain, and would have fit perfectly around the other necklace. This stone was the same as the other pendant, but carved from dark, pigeon’s blood ruby. Another feather sat within, gold this time. How the feathers could be seen so clearly, I didn’t know. It was strange, like a holographic image projected right into the center of each jewel. How had the feathers gotten in there? Was it just well-crafted costume jewelry?
Mom shut the box and set it back on the mantle, then seated herself again to show me the necklaces up close in the flickering glow of the hearth.
Both were real, and the stones were the finest I had ever seen, but the startling part was the feathers. My sharp eyes could see downy bits at the bottom and the little hooks which held the veins together, yet they were made of stone and metal, as though the golden goose had laid obsidian eggs as well.
“Are those feathers real, or did someone make them?” I asked.
“The feathers are real,” she replied easily. “One is the golden crest and the other is the obsidian crest. These necklaces are the Plorávero amulets, and the powers of the people who made them are in these stones. I am giving these to you, as tradition requires, because you are the last of our clan.”
“What are you talking about?” I frowned, baffled.
“You are the last living Plorávero who still has magic in your blood; therefore, it is your responsibility to close the chain. Our family is an old sorcerer clan, though the one who took you from this world has kept it from you. Every generation, the firstborn child becomes the next link, and is required to create the next amulet.
“I knew you would be the last before you were even conceived, but I didn’t want you to be a part of it. We were corrupt, meddling in things we should have left alone, so I ran away. Thanks to me, your destiny is to create the last amulet and bind our power to this world.” She smiled weakly, almost in apology. It was as if she didn’t want to do this, but saw no other option.
“Mom, why are you giving me these now?” I asked slowly. “You’ve been dead for decades.” It hurt to state the obvious to my own dead mother, but this was just...it was bizarre.
Her smile remained solemn. “There’s no rest for even the dead, sweetie. One day you will know everything, and by then I am sure you will know what to do, but right now you need to trust me. Anyway, what good are they to me? The dead can’t use the objects of the living.”
My heartbeat sped a little. Strange that she would talk so plainly. My dreams were vivid, but never this vivid. Was it possible...?
“That’s because you are not in a dream,” she said, apparently reading my mind. This time it didn’t annoy me to have my brain picked—mostly because I was freaking out. “I’m to give you the amulets and that is all. I would have come sooner, but I had to wait for your blood to settle, and you almost never sleep like this. “I see that you still haven’t lost your spark. You’re still my silly little girl, aren’t you?” She smiled warmly, and something inside of me snapped.
I reached out to take her hand. Mine was cold, but hers was warm, human—real.
“Mom...” Dream or not, this was my mother, the one who had taught me to be strong, yet left me behind and broke my heart. The pain resurfaced, and the only thing keeping it from crushing me was the feel of her soft, warm hand.
Before I could stop myself, I hugged her. Blood tears streaked my cheeks, flaking off like dust when they dried. I felt so lost and tiny, so alone and helpless. All the walls that I had worked so hard to build around this wound in my soul were crumbling away and revealing the festering abyss within. The abyss gaped open, the hungry maw of a beast prepared to eat me alive.
“It’s okay, Lydian. I’m still here for you,” she whispered gently.
I just sobbed, unable to articulate anything more coherent than a heartbroken “Mommy.”
Mom stroked my hair and held me close, murmuring comforting words of affection. She had always been the only one I would allow to see my weaknesses. Even when I’d misbehaved, her patience had been endless. Whenever she spoke sternly, it had always been with fair observation and sincere desire to see me better myself. My mother had poured my foundation. She had taught me patience and humor and intolerance for cruelty.
I had spent my entire life trying to live up to what I thought her expectations of me would have been, and now here she was, telling me that I had done exactly that.
Mom patiently waited for me to finish my breakdown, until I was too tired to cry anymore. At last, the tears left, and in their place was just enough room for a sliver of happiness.
Happiness…for the first time since her death, I felt no regret, no bitterness—just happiness that she still loved me, still cared enough to watch over me…happiness that I had not disappointed her.
Eventually, she pulled away and held up the necklaces with a warm, patient smile. “Here, try them on,” she said. “When I died, I believe I may have taken more than what I left behind. Let these amulets be my legacy to you. Promise me that you will finish our family’s story. Make it a happy ending for me, okay?”
I let her clasp them around my neck and then link the stones together with the little loops in the settings.
“Now,” Mom said with tears standing in her eyes again, but keeping her composure like a professional. Her face was sad, but resolved. “You must go.”
“What? I can’t just leave like this!”
“We are out of time,” she replied firmly.
“But what about the powers?” I blurted as she led me to the door. I didn’t know how she had gotten me up—the dream was becoming fragmented, like a bad cable signal. “I don’t know how to use them!”
She opened the door and turned to me. Her hair shimmered blue in the full moon’s light.
“You must learn on your own, just like the ancestors that came before you. It is fated for you to close the chain yourself, and I am not permitted to help—not even from beyond the grave. I may talk to you again after you’ve completed your task, but this is goodbye for now.” She hugged me warmly, seemingly oblivious to the chill in my skin.
“But Mom, I...”
I couldn’t continue. She was leaving me all over again.
“Soon, Lydian,” she reassured me.
“I love you, Mom,” I whispered hoarsely, my already broken heart fracturing yet again.
“I love you too, baby girl. And one last thing,” she added before I walked out the door.
“What is it?” I was miserable. Why did it have to end so soon? Why end at all? Why couldn’t I stay with her forever?
“Please don’t be silly,” she laughed. “You can stay with me when you die, but promise me that you will live out your life until you can no longer find happiness.”
She stopped me with a sudden embrace, our heights matched as she turned to my ear.
“No buts. Just listen: when you discover my killer, forgive him. I already have. He was only doing what he felt was necessary to protect himself. He has changed, but he is still lost. Help him and forgive him. He will be the one to change everything. He’s the only one who can.”
“O-okay,” I said uncertainly. Was she serious? The chances of me ever meeting my mother’s killer again were nil to zilch. That old man had died sometime in the eighties, and her death had been an accident. Mom had to have been behind the times a little—unless more ghosts would soon be visiting my dreams.
That last thought made me a tad uneasy.
“Just promise me,” she said, still holding me tightly.
Fine. She had promised to come back, so for now I could be patient. “Okay,” I whispered. “Goodbye, Mom,”
She kissed my cheek. “For now, my baby girl.”
She closed the door.
* o * o *
When I rose from sleep, the edges of a dream slipped away like the echo of a lover’s voice or the scent of sweet blood...
Sweet blood? Vulun-ris?
Wait, that was a myth—stupid to dream about that with all the other stuff...
...Where was I?
After a moment of confusion, I gasped and jerked upright, suddenly remembering the other dream. My room was filled with a bright light, but I ignored it in my haste. Sam had probably turned on the emergency floodlights on my balcony again. He liked to scare me into thinking the sun had risen, but it had only worked the first time. I’d ended up running out of my room, screaming in terror. My blood remained silent, so I wasn’t worried.
Instead, I focused on those last fleeting thoughts, the words my mother had spoken. I shut my eyes; with a hesitant hand, I reached for my throat...and gripped a cold stone.
To my utter disbelief, the necklaces were there.
I held them up to the light. They were still clasped together to form a single necklace, throwing off a rainbow of reflections as they spun, and I wondered if they really did hold magic powers. If so, then this meant that I really had talked to my mother…I had to see her again!
By making my own?
I didn’t know anything about magic. How the hell could I make an amulet?
This was crazy. I needed to gather my wits. I sucked in a calming breath and let it out slowly, forcing my heart to slow down and let me think. Obviously, the dream hadn’t been completely crazy, unless I was still dreaming—which I wasn’t. I didn’t need to pinch myself to know that. The amulets’ presence was inexplicable, but I knew when I was dreaming.
And speaking of amulets…
To get a better look, I unhooked the gold necklace from the silver one and tried to take it off. But as soon as the chain passed over my head, a searing pain shot over my skin, hotter than fire and shocking as a naked fall into a frozen lake.
I let out a sharp scream and dropped the necklace when my hands seized, but once the chain settled around my neck, the pain subsided and I fell back onto the bed, grimacing and squirming. Trembling in shock, I sat up and peered past my bed curtains.
I almost choked on my own tongue.
The sun was up, and the light I had assumed to be Sam’s doing was actually the late morning rays which should have killed me. I had forgotten to shut my curtains, and the sun spilled onto me like weightless, alien liquid. I was too confused to do anything but wonder if the ruby amulet had protected me.
My skin had gained a golden bronze sheen from that moment of exposure. I had burned, but not long enough, and the only sign was a normal tan.
It would have been neat it if I hadn’t been so petrified.
I was too scared to touch my amulets at first. I sat in silence for some time, fighting my blood’s inherent terror towards realizing the light’s identity, and trying to get a grip. After a while, though, a sense of euphoria took hold of me, and suddenly I was too excited to be afraid.
The obvious sat right under my nose. I had to do something other than just hang around. There was a world of light right outside my window, just begging me to explore it. Who cared about the technicalities? The sun was out and I wasn’t dead!
I changed clothes as quickly as I could and ran to the balcony to take my first look at the sun in over half a century.
It was so breathtaking that I nearly tripped over the railing in my haste. Ignoring my blood’s screams for me to run and hide behind my curtains, I stared, astounded, at the glowing scene. The grass shimmered with vibrant color. The granite walls sparkled, as though a crazed toddler had gone mad with paste and glitter. Even the autumn trees seemed to burn with light.
I was not going to spend my first day in the sun locked up in the Manor, regardless of whether this were an extension of the dream or not.
I rushed outside without a moment wasted. Seeing my car in the sun was enough to bring me near tears, but I fought off the urge and got in, reminding myself that there was still something far more important on the agenda.
I couldn’t hold back my wild grin.